Introduction to Colossians

Historical background

The book of Colossians has a remarkable historical background. Paul wrote this letter while he was under house arrest in Rome. He had made one last effort to communicate the Good News to his Jewish compatriots in Jerusalem. It failed, instead producing a riot from which the Romans rescued him and took him into custody. Because of imminent threats to his life his Roman guards whisked him away to Caesarea for safe keeping. There, although he had several hearings, his accusers never came to face him in court. They were probably content to have him safely out of Judea. After languishing in prison for about two years, he final exercised his right as a Roman citizen to appeal his case to Caesar. Following a harrowing trip to Rome, he awaited trial for several years.

Able to receive visitors, he used this opportunity to expound the Good News that he had already been preaching in many other places (Acts 28:30-31). He also spent time reflecting on his ministry and writing at least the four letters during that period which have been preserved to this day: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. The names of the first three came from the cities to whose followers of Jesus Paul wrote the letters. Many scholars think that Paul intended Ephesians to circulate among the various churches in the region. Colossians resembles Ephesians in its themes. Paul wrote Philemon as a personal note to a friend in Colosse and undoubtedly sent it along with the letter to the church there.

Paul had never visited Colosse (1:7-9). Epaphras, one of Paul’s converts during an earlier stay in nearby Ephesus, had established the Colossian church. Paul took advantage of this time to write because a man named Tychicus, present with him at the time, was going to travel to Ephesus, Colosse, and perhaps some other nearby cities. Paul would send the letter with him (Colossians 4:7-8).

Paul also wanted to address a false teaching which was beginning to infiltrate some of the churches. Though most scholars believe that the philosophy of Gnosticism arose and flourished the second century, the content of Colossians suggests that a precursor already existed in Paul’s day and greatly concerned him. It became one of the main issues Paul addressed in the letter. We will have more to say about this philosophy and its relevance to today when we come to it the middle of chapter 1 and more fully in chapter 2.

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